Maputo, Mozambique – Durban and East London, South Africa
TR Robertson — Day 5 of our trip to the tip of Africa found us docking that morning at the port city of Maputo, Mozambique. Maputo is on the Indian Ocean and is the capital and largest city of Mozambique. The economy is centered mainly on the harbor dealing with exporting coal, cotton, sugar, chromite, copra and hardwood. The country is a melting pot of several cultures, with the Bantu and Portuguese cultures dominating. Arab, Indian, and Chinese cultures are also found throughout the country.
Carolyn and I were to meet a guide that would take us on a city tour, but through a series of mishaps, the guide could not be located. Efforts to find him resulted in a long walk through a crowded, noisy, dirty section of town near the port. We saw numerous people working, sitting, standing on the broken sidewalks as cars moved in and out of the unmarked streets. Two very nice gentlemen tried to assist us in locating the company our guide worked with, but this was to no avail. Our initial impressions of Maputo was that this was a third world city with a tremendous unemployment situation. Had we been able to take our city tour, I think we would have seen a different side of life in this large port city. Some of the places visitors usually see include Independence Square, the neoclassical City Hall and the French-Mozambican Cultural Center. There are also two structures designed by Gustave Eiffel, designer of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. The two structures are the large Central Railway Station and the Iron House built in 1892 and constructed entirely of metal. Other points of interest are the artistically designed Cathedral of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception built in 1944, the Fortress of Maputo built in the 19th century to defend the port against pirates and Mozambique National Museum of Art. Several of the passengers on the ship made their way to the FEIMA Market where local artisans and vendors sold a variety of thing such as cashew nuts and Laurentia beer, a local brew. Although we did not see much of the city, we do have a stamp in our passports showing we were in the country, even for the briefest of time.
Our ship departed later in the evening for an overnight sail to our next port of call, Durban, South Africa. Durban is the largest city of the province of KwaZulu-Natal and the third largest city of South Africa, population around 3.5 million. It is also called the busiest port of South Africa. One of Durban’s landmarks is the “Golden Mile”, a multiple series of beaches protected from sharks by shark nets and patrolled by guards. The beaches are known as good surfing beaches. Along the waterfront is a busy Promenade with hundreds of shops and eateries as well as the uShaka Marine World aquarium. Other places to visit include the Umgeni River Bird Park with over 3,000 birds of various species and the Victoria Indian Street Market with shops, food, mosques and temples.
For our visit to Durban, we had hired a private guide, who did pick us and another couple up, to visit Tala Game Reserve. The large game reserve covers 7,418 acres and contains 300 bird species and hundreds of animals. Before arriving at the game reserve, we had a very nice ride through the city and out into the countryside. As we traveled on a nice freeway system, including a toll road, our guide explained a lot about what we were seeing along the way. There were a number of hitchhikers we passed, many with their hands in the air signaling the cars that passed. We were told when a hitchhiker held up one finger it meant the hiker would pay for a longer ride, one finger down meant they would pay for a shorter local ride. If they are waving their hand up and down it meant they wanted a ride to the beach and if they turned one thumb back and forth it meant they wanted a ride but couldn’t pay. We also passed fields and fields of sugar cane. We were told that last year alone, South Africa exported over 4 million tons of sugar cane from Durban farms. Our guide also explained some of the racial differences in South Africa. He said there were four basic divisions – whites, colored, black and other minorities. Our guide said he was colored, mixed race. He pointed out the Victorian local market, which we passed on the way out of town, and said they had one very hot spice there called the mother-in-law exterminator.
After about 45 minutes, we turned into a beautiful, green series of fields and drove up to a large gated archway. This was the entrance to Tala Game Reserve. What was very nice about this tour was no large bus crowds and the guide could drive his small van around the reserve, stop whenever we asked and we could roll down the windows to take our pictures. The reserve had a number of animals we had seen on our first game reserve out of Mossel Bay, but what was most unique here was the large number of giraffes. We came upon the visitor’s center, in the middle of the reserve, stopped in a very nice crafts gift shop and just outside of the shop, we could stand on a raised deck and see giraffes through the bush and trees. I stopped counting at 25. There were males – darker patterns, females – lighter patterns and very young giraffes scattered through the bush. After about two hours in the park, we returned to the Nautica to prepare for our next port of call – East London.
An overnight sail to East London, South Africa, found the ship tied up at the dock by 8:00 am. East London is referred to as Buffalo City, located between Buffalo River and Nahoon River. It is South Africa’s only river port, established in 1847 as a landing place for British troops and supplies. Today, the port city is another popular South African holiday destinations It is known for its long stretches of beaches and good surfing. The city has a strong British influence, shown in the older buildings, such as City Hall, the Public Library, Fort Glamorgan and homes like the historic Gately House. The East London Museum has a display devoted to the coelacanth, a fish discovered off the coast of Africa, existing in prehistoric times and long thought to have been extinct, now referred to as a living fossil. One other noticeable thing in the town was the strong western influence as we passed a Toy R’ Us, Woolwourth (spelled with a u), Steersburgers (a local fast food burger), a 24 Hr KFC, McDonalds and another fast food chicken eatery called Chicken Licken’. We were told there is a large Mercedes Benz factory in this town as well. We drove past a cricket stadium where South Africa had defeated Pakistan. Even with all of this seemingly economic success, it was pointed out that East London has a 46% unemployment rate and the average monthly wage is $1,800 RAND ($134.00). Like many of the South African cities, unemployment is a significant problem and a major issue in the upcoming elections for President in May.
We had booked a tour to another game reserve, this one booked from the ship, to a private game reserve called Inkwenkwezi. Upon arrival, by bus, to the reserve, we were greeted by a number of local women, who greeted us, dressed in traditional outfits, as they sang and danced at the entrance to the visitor’s center. We boarded the open air vehicles for a bumpy, thrilling ride through the reserve. Our guide knew a great deal about the local fauna and did his best to show us every animal he could located. The difficulty with the reserves is these animals roam free and if they don’t want to be found, you can’t find them. We were taken in an enclosed area, fenced off from part of the park, where a number of male and female lions were able to roam. Close to the entrance of this area, around 10-12 male and female lions were laying around, stretched out in the sun. Many of the lions were white lions. Our group and others were able to get a lot of up close pictures of these magnificent animals.
Back to the ship after another incredible day seeing things we had never seen before and seeing animals able to exist running free, yet protected from the horrible poaching that occurs in parts of Africa. Next stop, Port Elizabeth then two days at sea sailing to Namibia.